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Medvedevs Liberal Hot Air

Published: January 22, 2014 (Issue # 1794)


Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev often looks like the odd man out in the government he heads. Many people expected him to be retired to some meaningless sinecure once his four-year stint as figurehead president ended in May 2012. Yet President Vladimir Putin is keeping him on. The question is why.

Medvedevs presidency was not a success by any measure. His early liberal agenda, which stirred hope among some members of the intelligentsia, quickly proved nothing but hot air. He was ineffectual, timid and maladroit in his public appearances. His infantile delight in high-tech gadgets and the social media was ridiculed, and his love of 1960s British rock bands made him look like a latent teenager.

The low assessment of Medvedev is probably the only thing the opposition and Putins supporters share today. Putin himself often seemed irritated by Medvedev during his proteges presidency. Since returning to the Kremlin, he pointedly curbed the modernization program Medvedev advocated. Some of the oligarchs who supported the former president felt pressured.

So far, Medvedevs tenure as prime minister has done little to dispel the impression of him as a nonentity. Putin has criticized the work of Medvedevs government, expressing impatience with its failures to implement his May 2012 directives on social programs and the economy.

Medvedev must also be a constant reminder to Putin of his failure to create a viable successor. In 2007 to 2008, Putin was determined to retire from politics. He wanted someone who would be able to assume power but remain loyal and allow him to enjoy his considerable fortune unmolested something Putin himself had scrupulously done with regard to former President Boris Yeltsin. After months of trying to choose between former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Medvedev, Putin opted for the latter as more trustworthy of the two. But, despite Putins best efforts, Medvedev did not become a true political leader, necessitating Putins return to presidency.

Putin is no longer thinking of a successor and is likely to stay on for the remainder of his current six-year term as president and the next that is, at least until 2024. It is not clear who will succeed Putin after that, but it certainly will not be Medvedev. Most likely, Putin has other plans for Medvedev.

First of all, there is the economy, which stagnated in 2013 and may suffer a recession this year. If oil prices fall, the economic downturn may prove severe. It would seem that Putin does not expect a major economic debacle, throwing money around as if there is no tomorrow. For example, he is providing billions of dollars in loans to Ukraine and Belarus and assuming the huge financial burden for the Sochi Olympics. He is also keeping Medvedev at the helm, which is not a wise decision if he expects stormy weather ahead. At the same time, however, if the economy does hit the skids, Medvedev and his government could always be used as a scapegoat, while respected former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin could be then brought in to deal with the economic crisis.

Medvedevs lingering liberal image could also come handy if Putin clamps down on dissent after the Sochi Olympics, as many in the opposition fear. Medvedev could then be blamed for undermining the state. By the same token, if the recent small-scale amnesty were to be followed by other steps designed to achieve reconciliation at home and burnish Russias image abroad, Medvedev could once again be put forward as a reformer. But in any case, Putin will remain as the countrys tough and uncompromising national leader.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, lives in New York. His detective novel Murder at the Dacha was published by Russian Life Books in 2013.





 

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 3


Although the Peter and Paul Fortress sand sculptures are more central and therefore more visible to the throngs of tourists, the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburgs own collection closes today. The World Collection of Sand Sculptures that have been on display at the park reaches its final day, so fans of the classic beach activity should get there while they can.



Thursday, Sept. 4


Vladimir I. Danchenkov, Head of Baltic Customs, will be in attendance during AmChams Customs and Transportation Committee Meeting convening this afternoon at the organizations office near St. Isaacs Square at 3 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 5


Scrabble lovers and chess masters get their chance to assert their intellectual dominance at the return of the British Book Centers Board Game Evenings tonight. Held weekly on Friday nights, the event gives both board game lovers and those hoping to improve their English the chance to meet, greet and compete. Check out the centers VK page for more details.



Saturday, Sept. 6


Athletes will relish the chance to get the latest gear and try out something new at I Choose Sport, an annual event at Lenexpo forum that plans to welcome more than 30,000 people this week to the international exhibition center. Not only will visitors get to try their hand at various athletic endeavors but they will also be able to peruse equipment that can fulfill their dreams of becoming a champion.


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg open their season this evening at home against Lokomotiv Yarovslavl at the Ice Palace arena next to the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. See their website for a full schedule and available tickets.



Sunday, Sept. 7


Check out retro and antique cars at Fort Konstantin on Kronstadt Island in the Gulf of Finland at FORTuna, a yearly car festival that highlights the eccentricities of the Soviet automobile industry. A car race, contests and a stunt show will give visitors a chance to rev their engines.



Monday, Sept. 8


This evening marks the opening of the two-week ballet festival High Season at the Mikhailovsky Theater. Check the theaters website for more details about performances and featured dancers.



Tuesday, Sept. 9


Discuss the latest news and issues at the AmCham Hazardous Waste Management Roundtable this morning in the Tango Conference Hall of the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge on Birzhevoy Pereulok. Starting at 9 a.m., planned topics include the Krasny Bor landfill and waste transportation between Russia and Finland.


Learn more about the citys modern architectural trends at the SPIBA Real Estate and Construction Committees meeting on the topic Contemporary Petersburg Style: What is It? Participants will get the chance to discuss whats in-demand with RBI Holdings Irina Petrova and Lubava Pryanikova, and the current state of the local real estate market. Please confirm your attendance by Sept. 5 through SPIBAs website if you wish to attend.



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